Best Weekend Camping Itinerary for Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Jason Daniel Shaw
SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK | KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Sequoia National Park and its lesser known neighbor, Kings Canyon National Park are some of the most beautiful National Parks in the country. When people think about California, they often think about the giant sequoia trees. From Southern California, the closest place to see them is one of these two parks so it is no surprise that they often top the lists of places that people want to visit. Camping amongst the largest trees on Earth is something that is not to be missed. I will lay out the best itinerary for a weekend camping trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks – hitting the top spots along the way.
HOW MANY DAYS IN THE PARKS
We spent three days exploring the parks and two nights sleeping under the giant sequoias. That is probably the minimum amount of time that you would want to dedicate to the parks in order to see both in one trip. You can obviously spend a lot more time there and not run out of things to see or do. From Los Angeles, we made the drive up to Tulare on Thursday night and stayed in a hotel to break up the drive and get to the park earlier on Friday. We had booked two nights at Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia. Although, I will talk about an alternative itinerary that may work better a little later. We didn’t have much of a choice since our trip was the weekend after Labor Day and the campgrounds were sold out.
DAY 1 IN THE PARKS
Day 1 was all about getting acclimated and orienting ourself to the park. Entering the park from the south entrance (Three Rivers) along 198 made the most sense for us. A little plug for the National Parks Service here – we have the annual pass and I highly recommend it to anyone that likes the outdoors. At $80, it pays for itself after just a few visits. The road into the park is a long, steep and winding one. We took our time and stopped at a number of the viewpoints along the way (this is definitely advised if you take my alternative itinerary), each stop getting better and better. When we arrived at Lodgepole, we setup our campsite and made our way over to the General Sherman trailhead. From there, we walked the trails and learned about the trees from the information boards, eventually making our way to the famous General Sherman tree. The General Sherman tree is the largest tree in the world by volume. It stands over 275 feet tall and has a base that is 36 feet in diameter. Luckily it was late enough in the day that there weren’t that many people lining up to take the iconic photo with it but still enough light to get a nice photo. I would recommend taking some closer portraits with the sign and the tree and then backing up and using the panoramic function (vertical) on your iPhone to capture the scale of the tree. To take a vertical panoramic, just open the camera app, scroll over to pano and then rotate your phone to the landscape orientation. You can then pan up to take a vertical panoramic photo. The sun was getting low in the sky so we found some dinner back at the Lodgepole campground before returning to our campsite. I setup a couple time lapses to capture the blanket of stars that filled the sky.
DAY 2 IN THE PARKS
Day 2 was our long day so we got up early, had breakfast and headed toward Kings Canyon National Park. The first stop was Kings Canyon Panoramic Point, the turnoff to it is opposite the turnoff to the General Grant tree. After the short but beautiful hike and taking in the views, we made a quick stop at the General Grant tree. The lot was already pretty full despite our early start as were the trails. We took our photos and continued on. We drove as far as you can go and ended up at Kanawyers, although we didn’t stop. We just took the u-turn loop and found a parking spot at Zumwalt Meadows. There is a great hiking loop along the river and around the meadows that is peaceful and very picturesque. It reminded us of the Yosemite Valley. One thing that I will mention is the drive time from Lodgepole to Zumwalt is about 2 hours so keep that in mind. It is also the reason for my alternative itinerary below. We stopped at several places on the way back toward Sequoia, including Roaring River Falls, Knapp’s Canyon, Grizzly Falls and Junction View.
Once we were back in Sequoia, we decided to squeeze a couple more stops in before sunset. There is a restriction on when private cars can visit the tunnel log at certain times of the year. We arrived after that time so we were able to drive there and get some photos of the Jeep. While in the area, we also stopped at Moro Rock. It was a struggle to find parking and the climb up the rock is grueling but well worth it. We were able to stay and watch the sunset from the top before carefully making our way back down. After a long day, it was finally time to head back to camp and cook some dinner.
DAY 3 IN THE PARKS
Day 3 was also the day that we had to drive back to Los Angeles so we decided that our departure would have to be sometime just after lunch. We started with the Giant Forest Museum, which gives you some history of the area and teaches you more about the giant trees. It also gave us a central place to park for the day. We arrived early enough that parking wasn’t difficult but it can get crazy later in the day. While there, we walked the Big Trees Trail that takes you around a beautiful meadow and there is even a fallen sequoia tree that you can climb on.
From the Big Trees trail, it was time to head back to the museum and get serious about our hike and make our way through the Giant Forest. We hopped on a bus that took us back to the General Sherman trailhead. We made our way to the Congress Trail which includes some of the biggest trees in the park, the Senate Group. We then took the Trail of the Sequoias, leading us past some incredible groupings of trees and through some amazing forest views. I think we saw one person the entire hike which made it very peaceful. Finally, we made it to Eagle’s View which offered us some amazing views of the valley below and of Moro Rock. We were on the final stretch – we hiked to Crescent Meadow where we caught the bus back to the museum. It was time to head back to LA.
ALTERNATIVE CAMPING ITINERARY
The itinerary that I outlined above was because of the limited campground availability during the holiday week and the fact that we wanted to stay in one campground both nights, however, given some advanced planning, there is a more efficient way to see the parks. Day 1 would be the same as above, stopping along the southern route to see the sites on the way to Lodgepole campground, setting up camp, visiting the General Sherman Tree, Tunnel Log and climbing Moro Rock for sunset. The next day would mean packing up camp before hiking the Big Trees Trail and Giant Forest area. Camp for the night would be one of the campgrounds in the Grant Grove area. Day 3 starts at Panoramic Point and then continues through the Kings Canyon stops before exiting the parks through the northern entrance. Either itinerary you choose, you can’t go wrong, as these parks are some of the best places to camp in California.